Why the Compact Disc Was Not a Revolution And «Cityfish» Will Change Textual Scholarship, or What Is a Computational Edition?

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The digital scholarly editions that textual scholars and digital humanists produced for over two decades have often been accompanied by claims about their revolutionary nature. Technological innovations are prone to induce such claims, as the case of the compact disc audio carrier exemplifies. However, on closer inspection we are hard pressed to identify the revolution that such innovations bring about. Arguments that textual scholars have put forward to claim fundamental differences between print and digital scholarly editions turn out to be weak. Some, therefore, claim that in fact no essential changes exist between print and digital text, nor between print or digital textual scholarship. However, none of the arguments takes into account the most striking difference between print and digital text, which is the performative potential of the latter. Digital text is endowed with a performative aspect through software code. However, current digital scholarly editions adhere almost exclusively to a representational philosophy in which the idea of text as a static materialized object is unaltered digitally remediated, that is: they are mostly static digital objects mimicking static print books. Perceived primarily as infrastructure underpinning digital scholarly editions, executable program code has until now largely been ignored by textual scholarship as a methodological means. Code, as will be explained, is the very embodiment of the ontological difference between print and digital text—it is text performing. This ontological shift and the emergence of a performative digital textual heritage do justify explorations of the methodological affordances that code creates for textual scholarship. As an example of such an exploration the idea of the computational scholarly edition is introduced (as opposed to the "merely digital” scholarly edition) and a tentative implementation is presented. Finally it is argued that, rather than to extradite them, it is more productive to embrace digital and computational exploratory niches in textual scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129–156
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • scholarly digital edition
  • performative digital text
  • data
  • text-as-code
  • ontological status of text
  • methodoligcal change/innovation


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